By Shabir Ally
The New American Bible is an official Christian Bible. Yet it contains many points of interest and value to the Muslim caller to Islam. Every caller who intends to use the Bible for Dawah should get a copy of this Bible. Get especially (if you can) the St. Joseph Medium Size Edition.
The introduction to this Bible includes an article entitled: How to Read Your Bible. This article makes a lot of valuable points. I reproduce for your edification some of the main points offered in that introduction. Everything listed in the points below is directly asserted in the article itself or implied therein. I have only summarized. I did not improvise. Where I use my own words I still represent the ideas of the authors. Often, you will notice the presence of quotations marks. These mark off the included words as the words actually used by the editors of the New American Bible, St. Joseph Medium Size Edition. The article from which the points are drawn is found on pages 17 to 35 of the introduction. Consider these points; use them politely and wisely.
What the Scholars confess about the Bible in General
The Bible is not necessarily the most read book or the best understood book.
The Bible was inspired by God. But “This does not mean that God dictated His message as a businessman dictates a letter to a secretary. God takes the author as he is and leaves him free to choose his own means of communication.”
“Some authors chose existing folk tales and even beast fables to bring out their point.”
There is a difference between INSPIRATION and REVELATION. The entire Bible is inspiration but not the whole Bible is revelation. The authors of the Bible were inspired to search for meaning in life and in the events of history. The search for answers was inspired, but the answers found were not necessary revealed by God. But some of those answers are written in the Bible by the human authors. Some of what they wrote clearly cannot be attributed to God. “Think of the ‘holy wars’ of total destruction, fought by the Hebrews when they invaded Palestine. The search for meaning in those wars centuries later was inspired, but the conclusions which attributed all those atrocities to the command of God were imperfect and provisional.”
An example of such atrocities is in Judges1:1-18. Read it for yourself.
The Bible is a collection of many books of different kinds. “A major disadvantage is that these books are not put together systematically as the books of a modern library.”
“Edifying interpretation of events” is “often intermingled” with history.
“The Bible is God’s word and man’s word. One must understand man’s word first in order to understand the word of God.”
The Bible contains “Beast Fables.” Examples: Genesis; Numbers 22, 22-35.
Speeches of persons in the Bible are not necessarily what the persons said. “It is the inspired author who wants to state something by putting these words into the mouth of a person with authority.”
The book known as Acts of the Apostles in the Bible often puts words into the mouths of its characters.
The description of the heavens and the earth in Genesis, chapter 1, is not necessarily a true description. That description is conditioned by the time and culture in which it was written. “Do not be shocked about this!”
“The sacred writers attribute quite a number of human characteristics to God.” This too is “conditioned by time and culture.”
The Psalms are a collection of poems full of feeling. Psalm 137, verses 8 and 9 pronounces a blessing on one who grabs a Babylonian baby and dashes it against a rock. In this psalm “The feeling, the thought, the total poem is inspired (guided) by God, though it is not necessarily revealed truth!” But this is not the only Psalm which is not necessarily revealed truth. To find out for yourself, “Read some psalms!”
What the scholars confess about the Gospels in particular
“What did the authors of the Gospels do? In the congregations, mainly in the cities around the Mediterranean, they found scores of narratives about Jesus, the beloved Founder of the Christian faith. The writers took those narratives and frequently even remolded and refashioned them to bring out the lesson they wanted to teach.”
Therefore the four Gospels are not really biographies of Jesus. They are “digests of Christian teaching concerning the risen Lord Jesus.”
“A remarkable fact is that for a long time Christians misunderstood” this truth about the Gospels.
The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 1, verses 1-17, is not an absolutely true genealogy. First, Matthew took it perhaps from the family of Joseph. Second, “the sacred writer refashioned this document to a list of three times fourteen ancestors.”
“Reading the Gospels, one should distinguish historical facts from theological elaboration.”
The Gospels often represent Jesus in controversy and conversation. “One may ask: Was Jesus involved in these conversations? Did He answer exactly as related in the Bible? It is not certain.”
There may be some true events and “controversies which supplied the background materials for the conflict stories of the Gospels. But as these accounts now stand, they are literary forms used by the Gospel writers in their catechisms to bring out what they had to tell the opponents of early Christianity.”
Matthew tells us that baby Jesus was taken to Egypt. This is not necessarily true. But since Israel had been in Egypt, and since Israel was God’s chosen one, Matthew placed Jesus in Egypt to convince his readers that Jesus was the real Israel. “This is a strange literary device, but the ancient writers loved to work with this kind of figurative speech.”
“It is difficult to know whether the words or sayings attributed to [Jesus] are written exactly as He spoke them.”
“True, the Gospels are based on sound historical facts as related by eye-witnesses, but both deeds and words of Jesus are offered to us in the framework or theological interpretation.”
Did Jesus say the things which the Gospels report? “The Church was so firmly convinced that the risen Lord who is the Jesus of history lived in her, and taught through her, that she expressed her teaching in the form of Jesus’ sayings.” The words are not Jesus but from the Church.
“Can we discover at least some words of Jesus that have escaped such elaboration? Bible scholars point to the very short sayings of Jesus, as for example those put together by Matthew in chapter 5, 1-12”
The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, chapters 5 to 7, was delivered by Jesus while he was on a mount – or was he? Matthew only represented the matter such in order to show that Jesus was like Moses who received the law on Mount Sinai. Jesus was not really on a mountain. This is only a figurative device used by Matthew.
“Walk into a modern library, you will find all the books neatly arranged under fiction and non-fiction. It is not that simple in the library called the Bible. How does one know whether one deals with history or some form of figurative speech?” To begin with you should always be disposed to follow the teaching authority of the Church.”
“The signature of a bishop in your Bible assures you that opinions, expressed in footnotes and introductions, reflect what is generally accepted as sound doctrine in the Catholic tradition.”
“Knowing that early Christians mistakenly expected Christ’s second coming during their own lifetime, helps you to understand 1 and 2 Thessalonians.” The first of these two books in the Bible is written under the said mistaken expectation.
“The Hebrews [who wrote the Bible] were restless searchers for meaning in our human condition. Reading their inspired literature should challenge you to go on with a faithful search for meaning in your own situation.”
There you have it folks. A collection of confessions of the scholars who edited the New American Bible. The words within quotation marks are their own. All the ideas are their own. Some of the said ideas they have explicitly stated; others they clearly imply. Words within square brackets were inserted where necessary to make the points clear. Use these points to help convince Catholics.
The title page of this Bible shows that the book is “authorized by the Board of Trustees of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine” and “approved by the Administrative Committee/Board of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops” and the “United States Catholic Conference.” It is published by the Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, 1986. The Bible contains all the necessary Catholic certification: the Nihil Obstat, and the Imprimatur from the Archbishop of Washington. And, oh, yes! A letter from the Vatican, including the signature of the Pope, appears in the preface to guarantee the reliability of this Bible for Catholics.
Protestants and others may not be convinced by the confessions. They may object that these are not their own scholars. Yet many Protestant scholars have reached the very same conclusions. But that is the subject for another article. Notice, however, that you can always argue that the points above are admitted by friends of the Bible. Even one who does not recognise the authority of Catholic Bishops will have to admit that they are nevertheless friends of the Bible. Their testimony above cannot be discounted so easily.
Muslim callers to Allah will find it advantageous to obtain a copy of the said Bible and use it wisely. Always present your points with respect and love. Do not seek to defeat the other person with clever arguments, but seek to win him over with courtesy and persuasive speech.